Deported veterans seek a way home

TIJUANA, MEXICO (CNN/WCMH) — It’s another sign of how complicated America’s immigration conversation is: Some veterans who are not American citizens have been deported to Mexico. This election year, these vets are seeking a new chance to the U.S., the country they call home.

“I’ve been deported in 2004, so a little bit over 10 years,” deported veteran Hector Barajas said.

After more than 10 years in Mexico, Barajas is finally eligible to get a Mexican passport, the first step to returning to the U.S.

Barajas was honorably discharged after serving more than five years as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army, but faced hardships after he left the military. He spent time in jail after he was in a car when another passenger fired an illegal weapon. After serving his sentence, he was deported.

“I never thought that I would be deported,” Barajas said. “I thought immigration would be like, for my uncle that’s coming across and gets caught.”

Barajas left the country he had called home since he was 7 years old, leaving behind his daughter.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has suggested he’d consider undocumented military members with an open mind, a welcome surprise for Barajas.

“I don’t approve of his, what he said about Mexicans and immigrants,” Barajas said. “But I do approve of anybody wanting to get veterans home.”

However, not everyone is sold on Trump’s promise.

“Will he do it? I don’t know. I really don’t think so,” Daniel Torres, another deported veteran said. Torres served as a lance corporal in the U.S. Marines and fought on the ground in Iraq before being honorably discharged.

The Marines didn’t figure out Torres was undocumented until after he served in Iraq.

“After I got back from Iraq, I volunteered for one year deployment to Afghanistan,” he said. That’s when the Marines figured out his documentation was fake.

“I wanted to be able to say I done something for the country. That I done something to earn my place in the United States,” Torres said when explaining why he lied to the military. However, that lie was enough to get him deported. Just this past spring, he became one of a few granted U.S. citizenship after arguing his case in court.

Barajas hopes that more deported veterans will take this path. His Tijuana-based deported veteran support house has more than 300 vets in its database. However, the ACLU says that there are thousands more in the exact same situation.

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